UNITED NATIONS — The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Friday that the Ethiopian government’s decision to expel the UNICEF representative in the country — along with six other UN officials — is “regrettable and alarming.”
UNICEF has been present in Ethiopia for more than 60 years, working to advance and protect the rights of the most vulnerable children.
As the humanitarian situation in the country deteriorates — with children bearing the brunt — the fund’s work is more urgent than ever, said UNICEF in a statement.
“We have full confidence in the teams working on the ground to save children’s lives, guided — as always — by the principles of impartiality, humanity, neutrality and independence. Our programs will continue. Our one and only priority is to support the children who urgently need our help, wherever they are,” said the statement.
The Foreign Ministry of Ethiopia on Thursday declared seven UN officials persona non grata for “meddling in the internal affairs” of the country. They were given 72 hours to leave Ethiopia. Adele Khodr, UNICEF’s representative in the country, is among the seven UN officials.
The United Nations said Friday that it is the long-standing legal position of the organization not to accept the application of the doctrine of persona non grata with respect to United Nations officials.
“This is a doctrine that applies to diplomatic agents accredited by one state to another state. The application of this doctrine to United Nations officials is contrary to obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and the privileges and immunities to be accorded to the United Nations and its officials,” said Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
The United Nations was sending a note verbale to the Permanent Mission of Ethiopia to the United Nations in New York to clarify its legal position.
In a telephone conversation with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Guterres informed Abiy of the UN position, said Haq.
The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry on Friday accused the UN officials of breaching a memorandum of understanding concerning access to Ethiopia’s Tigray region signed in November 2020. The breaches, said the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry in a press release, included the diversion of humanitarian assistance to rebels, violation of agreed-upon security arrangements, and transfer of communication equipment to rebels.